Austin is known for its tacos—tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner, please—as much as it's known for its awesome ’cue (check out our list of the best BBQ in Austin). But sometimes when the hankering for great Mexican food comes, we want the full suite of dishes that have crossed the border over the centuries. That's where the best Mexican restaurants Austin has to offer step in. These guys serve authentic elotes, migas and mole alongside great cocktails, beer and tequila; sometimes they do it in the kind of super-casual space that starts to feel like home, and sometimes they do it in the kind of fancy digs that qualify them to be considered one of the best restaurants in Austin, period. All of them are well worth putting on your list of things to do in Austin for serving fantastically authentic Mexican food.
Best Mexican restaurants in Austin
Mexican restaurants and taco trailers are two different beasts, but Veracruz All Natural has mastered them both. Universally revered for everything from their beloved migas to their al pastor, their trailers on Cesar Chavez and at Radio Coffee set themselves apart from the city's fleets of other taco trucks thanks to fresh ingredients and a clean environment. Little additions like housemade chips and fresh juices round out the menu, which has earned them a loyal following that's extended to brick-and-mortar locations in North Austin and at Round Rock.
Named after one of Mexico City's trendiest neighborhoods, La Condesa serves a hip take on traditional Mexican fare served out of one of the city's most dazzling spaces. An explosive over-sized mural frames a dining room where trendy Austinites and visiting hipsters dig into three-day mole chicken breasts, and the patio overlooking Guadalupe Street is one of the city's few truly urban-feeling happy-hour destinations. Speaking of happy hour, it's the best time to visit thanks to half-priced bar snacks like their signature elotes and a sampler of four guacamoles, featuring seasonal ingredients like pomegranate.
Mi Tradicion has scored awards from the Austin Chronicle for Best Mexican Bakery and Best Thing To Happen to Far South Austin, so it's no surprise that their sugary selection of traditional pan dulces is unparalleled. Both of the two locations have enough cookies, empanadas and doughnuts to send a sweet tooth into a tailspin, but these kitchens crank out more than just sweets. The lunch menu of tacos, tortas and blue corn quesadillas is as authentically Mexican as it gets. Pro-tip: buy a bag of their surprisingly sweet tortillas to take home.
Yet another Austin restaurant success story with trailer roots, El Naranjo popped up on Rainey shortly after the arrival of the Lustre Pearl empire but before the street became an over-run bar district. The owners are Oaxaca ex-pats (they still return to lead regular culinary tours) and their interior Mexican roots shine through in plates like their seasonal ceviche and a pair of mole dishes (lighter amarillo and 30-ingredient negro). Conscience-minded diners will be happy to find that the traditional cooking is paired with responsibly sourced proteins like Niman Ranch Berkshire Pork and Maple Leaf Duck Breast.
Many older Austin restaurants rest on laurels of nostalgia while their cuisine has been left in the dust by new-school chefs, but Fonda San Miguel is an example of a classic whose flavors have never gone out of style. Since 1975, the colorful Allandale institution adorned with a museum's worth of sculptural art has been celebrating the entirety of Mexican cuisine, from the cochinita pibil of the Yucatan to broiled fish of Vera Cruz, with a flair and execution that would please the foodie sect without alienating more conservative diners. Bonus points for one of the city's most indulgent brunch buffets.
Although it shutters at 3pm, sunlight pours into Habanero Cafe during the breakfast and lunch rushes as a melting pot of South Austinites dig into some of the best no-frills Mexican fare in town. Most of the decor comes courtesy of beer companies, but the vintage neon signs and tiled Corona mosaics just add to a homestyle charm that's further amplified by a friendly waitstaff and some of Austin's most generous lunch specials. Don't miss the chicken fajitas, with a thick rub of chile powder that disproves the misconception that all fajitas are created equal. It's cash only, but the $6.95 specials make it easy to fill up for less than a Hamilton.
At Suerte, one of Austin's newest modern Mexican restaurants, chef Fermin Nunez uses local heirloom corn to craft his dishes, which include goat rib barbacoa with handmade tortillas and tetela al carbon. A sizeable mescal and tequila menu are available, and you'll find both spirits in Suerte's specialty cocktails: the Saturday Sun, with mezcal, lemon, curaçao, maraschino liqueur, lavender bitters, and lavender flower and sugar, is particularly refreshing.
Riverside is a hotbed of traditional Mexican joints, and with much respect to Taco More's salsa bar and goat soup, the most charming is El Taquito. Perched high above street level, the humble restaurant from Tamaulipas immigrants has been dishing out late-night taquitos by the half dozen since 1995. The 3am closing time makes it a winning alternative to the strip's bevy of chain fast food outlets, with an undeniably great al pastor taco, as well as recommended barbacoa and carnitas. An extended menu of queso fundidos and enchiladas make it more than just a taco spot, and the market-style option to buy meat by the pound can turn your kitchen into a legit taqueria (just don't forget the onions and cilantro).
Manor Road is a hub of breakfast tacos, and although Chilito's Cherrywood is a neighborhood favorite, the more home-style approach at Mi Madre's makes their migas taste like it was actually made by a loving parent. For years they only served breakfast and lunch, but the street's boom in the last five years led to an expansion to dinner service with unconventional appetizers like al pastor fries and mole wings, as well as more traditional dishes like roasted goat pasilla and chicken-filled chile relleno. Another positive result of Manor Road's popularity? The rooftop mescal bar, Techo Mezcaleria, helmed by the owners' son and his wife.
Shoppers needing a respite from Second Street can settle in at ATX Cocina, a modern Mexican restaurant where chef Kevin Taylor puts a gourmet spin on quesadillas and sopes. Homemade tortillas are stuffed with oxtail and marinated cabbage, or you can dip into elevated queso fundido at the crudo bar or on the breezy patio. The house Paloma is made with grapefruit four ways—as a foam, a juice, a simple syrup and infused in reposado tequila.
Barton Springs Road has plenty of family-friendly (read: tourist-friendly) dining options, but the street has had tough luck maintaining establishments with serious culinary reputations. El Alma's sprawling, multi-tiered footprint was a step in the right direction thanks to a well-rounded menu offering a wealth of rarer taco varieties (lamb barbacoa, shrimp al pastor) perfect right before a dip in the springs, as well as hearty entrees to refuel after swimming. Don't miss their most popular dish, duck enchiladas in pasilla mole with almonds. It's also worth noting that El Chilito, El Chile, El Sapo and Alcomar all operate under the same management, with each offering reliably delicious takes on different types of Mexican cuisine.
Despite accolades from practically every publication in town, La Fruta Feliz is far less trafficked than some of its Manor Road neighbors, even though the menu is equally as savory and a few bucks cheaper. The hidden strip mall location makes it easy to drive past, but stop and you'll be rewarded with piping-hot breakfast tacos, massive plates of chilaquiles (a more authentic alternative to migas) and one of the city's best goat-based dishes: a slow-braised barbacoa de chivo. Wash it down a “vampire smoothie” made with carrots, celery, orange and beetroot.